Editorial: Ben Affleck's Batman Never Got a Chance - In Memoriam
by Dan Marcus
February 19, 2019
Well, it is official. After over two years of speculation and rumors Ben Affleck appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live this past week to make it official: he's out as Batman. No more Caped Crusader for him. This should come as no surprise to anyone that is familiar with Affleck's tenure as The Dark Knight. Regardless, it can't help but feel like a colossal disappointment. Despite three appearances over three movies: two leading roles in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017), and a small cameo in Suicide Squad (2016), Affleck never got a chance as Batman. With this official and with the DC cinematic universe heading in a new direction, there's no better time than now to explore why Ben Affleck was so underutilized.
Before we get into this more, here's the video from Jimmy Kimmel where Affleck makes the announcement:
When Ben Affleck was originally cast as the Caped Crusader in August 2014, it sent shock-waves through the comic book community. After Christian Bale ended his run as Batman with The Dark Knight Rises (in 2012), fans were told to expect a new Batman to appear in Zack Snyder's follow-up to 2013's re-introduction of Superman, Man of Steel. What fans didn't expect, however, was Ben Affleck stepping into the cape and cowl. This was seen as a controversial casting choice. After all, Affleck had played Daredevil over a decade prior to mixed results. He wasn't exactly the first choice among fans to step into the iconic role.
However, Affleck had grown as a performer since 2003's tepidly received superhero film. He had also grown as a writer, producer, & director. Affleck had a major career resurgence when he directed the crime thrillers Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and the political thriller Argo (which ended up winning Best Picture). Affleck, having suffered a somewhat abysmal career decline in the mid 2000's, was now more respected than ever. Once he was cast, fans immediately started speculating that he would eventually direct a standalone Bat-film of his own. This speculation soon grew into an insatiable hunger for many Bat-fans after they witnessed his raw, gritty, and visceral take on The Dark Knight in Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Affleck's Batman was different than every iteration that came before. Affleck's take was considerably darker than previous actors who played the role. This Batman was branding criminals in a dark and twisted Frank Miller-esque portrayal. He was older, wearier, and hardened by decades as the Caped Crusader. You saw all the years of pain in Affleck's eyes when he stared upon the Bat-cowl, or when he plotted his convoluted plan to take down Superman. Batman v Superman, or at least the version released in theaters, was not a perfect movie. It was marred by editing flaws, an overabundance of storylines and characters, and a very weird, dystopian tone that at times felt relentlessly bleak. Affleck's Batman was shortsighted right out of the gate, introduced in a Man of Steel sequel where he had to share the spotlight with Superman, Wonder Woman, and other supporting characters. He didn't have time to endear himself to the audience, the same way Robert Downey Jr. did as Iron Man. He was introduced as someone who hated Superman, automatically making us question if we should even trust or like him. It's difficult to root for a character who wants to kill Superman, of all people. Ben Affleck's performance, however, was not one of the film's problems.
Despite this, the polarizing response to the film hurt Affleck. It was obvious even in the press junket for the film. After a YouTuber famously slowed down his response, or lack thereof, to a question and set it to Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" (famously dubbed "Sad Affleck") it became an internet meme and instant sensation. Media outlets and film bloggers the world over gleefully shared the clip, empathizing the embarrassment of starring in a film that was such a massive disappointment among critics. This definitely didn't help Affleck's enthusiasm for the character, an outspoken comic book fan. Here's the original video:
It also didn't help that Affleck suffered a disappointing year in 2016 in general. Affleck's relationship with Warner Bros was somewhat soured when Affleck's next directorial effort, another crime thriller titled Live By Night, was mostly trashed by critics and flopped at the box office. Live By Night was a passion project for Affleck, who delayed the project in favor of his commitment to Batman. Studio politics created rumors that implied Warner Bros didn't give the movie a proper marketing push, further alienating Affleck from the Hollywood studio. Affleck also continued to struggle in his battle with alcohol addiction, making 2016 a year of personal and professional hardships for the Academy Award winning writer and director.
Later that year, he would make a cameo appearance in David Ayer's Suicide Squad. Although the film was received very poorly by critics, it became a box office sensation earning over $700 million worldwide by the end of its run. As 2016 drew to a close, Affleck's tenure as Batman was beginning to look uncertain. He had a contractual obligation to appear in Justice League, but beyond that it was unclear if he would don the cape and cowl for a fourth time. Justice League began production weeks after the release of Batman v Superman, before the studio even had time to process the vitriolic reaction to the film. As the film underwent several adjustments during pre-production, Affleck also reassured fans he was staying on as he began developing a standalone Batman film (dubbed "The Batman") that he would direct and co-write with comic book writer Geoff Johns, and eventually Chris Terrio (Argo, Batman v Superman, Justice League).
Then 2017 saw Ben Affleck getting an onslaught of media attention for his planned solo Batman film. At almost every press junket, whether it was for The Accountant or Live By Night, he kept getting asked about the status of his Batman project. It was visibly frustrating the actor, who clearly just wanted to talk about the other projects he was involved in that didn't involve a certain crime-fighter from Gotham City. He even appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live to reassure fans he was still directing the movie, even though merely weeks later he announced he was stepping down as director. Another sudden change in direction.
For those following the development of the film - which would have likely seen Batman facing off against the villainous Deathstroke, to be played by Joe Manganiello - this didn't come as much of a surprise. It was still a blow. For many fans, they had been waiting impatiently for the acclaimed actor/director of The Town and Argo to direct a Batman movie since he was announced as The Dark Knight in August 2014. In this most recent announcement, Affleck said he just "couldn't crack" the script, but the incessant hammering of the press surely played a factor in his decision. When he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live a few years back, he was clearly flustered at having to continuously talk about the movie before it was even written. It's the state of the current culture we find ourselves in where we want something right now and don't have the patience to let it gestate naturally. The media was impatient, and as a consequence it took a toll on Affleck.
Even though Affleck admitted he couldn't "crack the script", there were others that thought otherwise. Jay Oliva, a storyboard artist who worked on Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, allegedly read Affleck's script for The Batman at some point in development, calling it "the best Batman script I've ever read." That is pretty high praise, but when you think about all the talent involved – Affleck, with co-writer Geoff Johns, and Argo screenwriter Chris Terrio – it makes sense such a talented ensemble could write such a terrific screenplay. It also begs the question: if the script was so good, then why did he leave? Rumors circulated that Affleck and Warner Bros couldn't see eye-to-eye on the approach to the film. While that may have been true, I personally believe it was that as well as the constant media onslaught that contributed to Affleck walking away. He admitted several times he wanted the script to be "perfect", and given the media's reception to his portrayal of Batman it makes sense he'd be somewhat leery of putting himself completely out there. After all, he wouldn't just be starring as Batman this time – the film would be squarely resting on his shoulders as both co-writer and director. It's a pretty hefty feat none had previously accomplished.
Hi Bill! The original Affleck script was the best Batman script I've ever read. Ben had a kick ass story and I believe that the audience and fans would have loved it.
— Jay Oliva (@jayoliva1) September 4, 2018
It also speaks volumes of the current "internet journalism" culture we find ourselves in. With so many sites running rumors as if they were legitimate announcements, the line between fact & fiction becomes blurred. So many film sites ran rumors speculating about his departure, or the status of his planned Batman film, that it started to build traction over time. It's debatable whether this contributed to Affleck's retirement as Batman, but it surely played a role. There were so many articles discussing the minutia of Affleck's future as Batman that it created a toxic environment where rumors were reported as facts and the facts themselves became harder to discern. It is becoming a scary trend where every aspect of a film's development is being discussed, leaving nothing to the imagination anymore. In the years to come, it will become even harder for filmmakers to tell their stories without the unwavering scrutiny of the internet. The internet is quick to turn as well, and the evidence is everywhere – whether you look at the online reaction to The Last Jedi, or even Brie Larson's casting as Captain Marvel. So much is already decided before a movie even comes out. In many ways, Affleck's departure was cemented the weekend Batman v Superman opened. As funny as the "Sad Affleck" meme is, you can see Affleck's disappointment solidify in those slowed-down moments. In that exact moment, he already quit the role. The ink had already dried before it was even put to paper.
The final nail in the coffin, however, was Justice League, released in November 2017. After a year of dealing with ceaseless press for his own standalone movie, the much-anticipated team movie opened to bad reviews from critics ('a C-grade B-movie wherein all involved fully satisfy their contractual obligations", from Chris Klimek's NPR review). It went on to earn only $657 million worldwide, the lowest of any current DC movie to date. For a movie that should've been groundbreaking and game changing for the DC cinematic universe, it was viewed as a tremendous and embarrassing disappointment. On top of that, the film's original director, Zack Snyder, departed during production due to a family tragedy – leading Joss Whedon to come on-board and take the reigns – resulting in the entire cast having to reshoot a significant portion of the film.
If you've seen Justice League, you can definitely tell Affleck's heart just wasn't in it anymore. For those still looking for reasons why, they were as visible as a shimmering Bat-Symbol cutting through the night sky. Affleck's eventual departure from the role has been the culmination of several contributing factors over the last two years. Just take your pick. Just look at the critical response to Batman v Superman, a movie that Affleck was hesitant to do from the onset and received significant backlash when he was cast anyway. Then look at the the professional disappointment of Live By Night, a movie Affleck desperately wanted to get right – and most likely he felt extremely disheartened when it failed. Or, it could have been the consequence of the long-gestating standalone Batman film he tried so hard to get right. These perceived "failures" would take a toll on anyone. If Superman were to ask Ben Affleck "Do you bleed?", Ben Affleck would simply need to solemnly nod. He is, after all, still human – much like his veteran crime-fighting counterpart.
Most likely, it was all of the above. Ben Affleck never got a chance to shine as Batman, which will probably go down as one of the biggest missed opportunities in the comic book movie genre. If you can imagine for a second Affleck's acting talents with a proper standalone movie, the potential was limitless. Affleck's Batman was never the problem. He was saddled with movies that didn't live up to his potential. As I tweeted when the Hollywood Reporter first made the news of Affleck's departure officially public, Ben Affleck is now the Timothy Dalton of Batman actors. The movies in which he appeared were polarizing, the reaction was divisive, but among fans he has and will likely become a fan favorite whose tenure was ended prematurely.
For many passionate Batman fans, the idea of Ben Affleck actually directing a Batman movie was a match made in comic book heaven. The rumors going around suggested Affleck's script was akin to David Fincher's The Game, a psychological thriller in the guise of a dark and gritty superhero film. Affleck's Batman was loved by fans precisely because it was the comic-book character leaping off the pages of a Frank Miller comic onto the big screen. If you ask any Batman fan what his or her favorite scene involving Batman in a movie might be, you can almost be guaranteed it will be the warehouse fight scene from Batman v Superman.
This Batman was more physically imposing than any other live-action Batman, standing at a staggering six foot four inches. He wore a suit closer to the aesthetic of the comics than any other Batman. The thought of Affleck's Batman going up against Joe Manganiello's Deathstroke was truly galvanizing for many die-hard fans. Affleck released test footage of Manganiello as Deathstroke during production of Justice League, in which he cameos in the post-credits scene. For many Bat-fans, this could've been the ultimate Batman film. Many of the previous Batman movies were somewhat criticized for their fight scenes (even Nolan's trilogy). The prospect of a Batman film, directed and starring Affleck, as a psychological thriller in the vein of The Game with the fight choreography of Batman v Superman feels right up Affleck's alley. It is a true shame Affleck couldn't "crack" it. Now, it will be merely a figment in the imaginations of Batman fans everywhere.
Like Affleck's aborted Batman film, future performances of Affleck as Batman will now also be relegated to the imaginations of Bat-fans. As Matt Reeves has taken over the reigns of The Batman, the search begins for a new actor to don the cape and cowl. While Matt Reeves surely has the benefit of the doubt to find someone suitable to fill that Batsuit, one can't help but mourn Affleck's short but memorable time in the role as The Dark Knight. He never quite got a chance to prove all the naysayers wrong – nor did he ever get a full movie to show off what he could do – but he will be remembered in the eyes of many as one of the best actors ever to play the role. Whoever dons the cape and cowl next has some big boots to fill. What do you think? Do you agree that Affleck's tenure as Batman ended prematurely? Let us know your thoughts…